“Hey,” says Dark Little Critter, my imaginary raccoon. “Where’s your pin today?”
She’s talking about my “You Are Here” pin, the thing that marks where I’m at on my Christmas grief map.
We talked about that yesterday, when I was awake and lost in the dark morning hours.
Taking that time to put my status into words was grounding. It took a while (and a lot of words) to figure out what I was trying to say, but once I got it out in front of me, I felt better. I cried out the stuff that had gotten stuck; it was like coughing up a phlegm wad after holding it in through Sunday mass. A relief.
Here’s where I’m at today:
I need a full night – make that a week – with no shrieking summons from the baby to shovel her feces, reapply her discarded jammies, or keep her company because she’s awake and lonely.
It has been a long two and a half years, with that one.
For the love of god, why would they give a wakeful baby to an insomniac? Somebody was probably, thinking, “Oh, it’s a perfect fit. This mom will be up anyway. She won’t mind.”
But that shortsighted, ass-faced, uncommonly stupid brain humper did not realize that insomniacs DO sleep. It’s just that we only sleep a tiny little bit. And that sleep is so rare, and so precious, that to have it disturbed is like watching someone pee in your canteen in the middle of the desert.
It brings on the rage.
It also screws with your focus.
“Where the hell was I?” I mutter out loud.
“That’s what I asked,” Critter says, her eyes narrowed. “Earth to Laurie? You’re being annoying.”
I take off my glasses and rub my eyes.
“Back off, Trash Muncher,” I reply. “I’m not in the mood.”
“Ha! Trash Muncher!” Critter says, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Jesus Christ, Critter! I don’t have patience for your smart ass arguments today. Please, just fuck off.” I shout.
Critter levels her eyes at me. Then, she disappears into the living room. She comes back with a notebook and pen in her paws.
She climbs up onto the chair beside me, opens the book, and makes a dramatic gesture of licking the pen. Then, she starts scribbling.
“Eeeeeee-rrrrri-taaaaaaaaaa-buuullllllllll…” she pronounces carefully as she prints.
I roll my eyes.
“Yes, you smug-faced, flea-bitten, rotten-smelling pest,” I growl. “I am irritable.”
Critter lays down her pen slowly and rolls her head toward me, her mouth pressed in a hard line.
I glare back.
Without breaking eye contact, she slides off the chair, then drops down on all fours and walks quietly away.
I wait a beat.
She doesn’t come back.
“Critter?” I call, “Come on. Don’t…”
I put my forehead on the table and groan. My eyes cross and the woodgrain swims in and out of focus. I am too tired to hold my lenses steady. Too tired to fight with my imaginary friend.
What the fuck am I doing?
I lift my head.
“Critter?” I call. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m acting like a total dick, and you don’t deserve that.”
I tilt my ear toward the living room, but there’s no scritch-scratch of jogging claws.
“I’m really sorry,” I whisper, and press the heels of my hands into my eyes. I massage back and forth over the swollen grey pouches beneath them. God almighty, I am so tired.
How am I supposed to finish this post without her?
I’m almost mad, but the part of me that knows better is shaking its head. This isn’t an injustice. This is consequences.
I take a big breath, feel my chest balloon with resolve, and let it out.
“You know what, Critter?” I say out loud to her absence. “I’m glad you walked out. I would rather you leave when I cross the line, than hide your hurt and cut me later.”
I lay my face back down on the table, cheek-down this time, and stare at nothing. It looks grey.
I don’t know how much time passes, but next thing a voice drifts into the mist.
“Earth to Laurie,” it whispers; “where’s your pin?”
I sit up and rub my eyes. They are so dry; once they close, they don’t want to reopen. I turn my head toward the sound, seeking it blindly.
“There you are,” says the voice, and my lids finally drag across my corneas to reveal my furry, honest friend on the floor beside my chair.
“Hey,” I croak. I look in her eyes a minute to gather my thoughts. “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” Critter says, and lays her hand on my leg. “You went to a lot of trouble to avoid the question. Where’s your pin today?”
I frown and think about it.
“You know what?” I say; “I’m kind of okay.”
Critter lifts an eyebrow.
“Alright, I’m not great. I’m a dick and I’ve lost all feeling except anger. But I’m not a blubbering mess.” I say.
“Hmm,” says Critter. She lifts her nose and sniffs towards me a few times. “You smell okayish. There’s something to be said for daily hygiene.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment?” I ask.
“What do you want from me?” I ask.
“Nothing,” she says. “Except for you to be here.”
“Aren’t I?” I ask.
“You’re in and out,” she says. “You’re nicer when you’re all here.”
I think about this.
“How am I supposed to be MORE here?” I ask.
Critter rubs her chin.
“I think you need to roll in the scent of it,” she finally says.
“What?” I ask.
“You know,” she says, shrugging. “Roll around in it. The thing that is eating your brain. Get that special stink all over you, and when your nostrils are right full of it, get on with what needs doing.”
I raise a brow at her.
“You mean, like when dogs roll in cowshit, or deer pee, or fucking compost?” I ask.
I’m remembering a little white bichon that my dad brought home out of nowhere one day. This was less than a year before he died… maybe just a couple of months. That dog had a prissy-poodle haircut and a disgusting habit of rolling in whatever putrid semi-liquid she could find. The behaviour baffled me. Somebody told me it was a hunting instinct – she was trying to mask her own scent so she could get close to her prey.
Yeah. Wouldn’t want that reeking lump of canned cow barf in her bowl to get suspicious.
Critter sees the memory roll across my face and laughs.
“Same idea, but you’ve got it backwards.” she says. “Dogs aren’t trying to fool their prey; they’re trying to quell their obsession. Every cell in their body wants to stalk and chase and kill, but they’re domesticated, so they can’t. Those urges rise every time a dog feels tense, and the pressure becomes excruciating. At some point, on the verge of totally snapping, the dog dashes for any nearby smell that approximates blood and guts, and rolls in that stuff until they are covered. With gore caked into their fur, they can finally breathe. A cloud of filth can be a great comfort. It satisfies the beast within.”
“No shit!” I laugh.
I rub my forehead while this idea sinks in. Something about it feels weirdly right.
“The question is,” Critter says; “What is Your Filth?”
So, let’s you and I go deeper into our filth today.
Before you go dump out your trash bin, let me clarify.
I think Critter is suggesting that when we’re in the angry place, which happens a lot in depression and grieving, we dig into our dirty urges and find a reasonable way to satisfy them.
For me, that sounds like storytelling.
When my rage is stalking back and forth behind me, sometimes it feels really good to feed it with stories that are bleak, awful, or downright horrifying. Here are a bunch that scratch that particular itch; they help me process the shitty truths and figure out how to live with them.
(Disclaimer: There are affiliate links below, which means, if you purchase through them, the Critter and I will receive a little thank you from the vendor.)
Denis Leary as a New York firefighter. Also a drunk and often horrible human being, who tries his damnedest to do the right thing, but usually fails.
American Horror Story
Supernatural terror that is horrifyingly believable, because each storyline is powered by the worst in human nature.
William H. Macy as another drunk, this time an unemployed slimeball who screws-over his young family at every opportunity. He will blow your mind with his ability to limbo below your worst expectations.
Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Like Bad News
Every genre of music mashed together into a hypnotic rock fruit salad, with lyrics that make you want to drive around with your hand on the horn at 3am. Because, goddamn everything, and yet, never give up.
Suicide Stitch by Sarah Johnson
This collection of shivery dark stories made me cry in a dozen different ways. Every tale pits the best in us against the worst, and somehow gives me comfort. It in shows how the awful things we do make perfect sense; reading Suicide Stitch is like sticking your head inside the steaming carcass of human tragedy and seeing how all the parts pulse and quiver to the same rhythm.
Nix by J J Reichenbach
This story centers around a sarcastic supernatural asshole that you will kind of hate yourself for loving.
And… that’s my filth.
Whether your tastes run darker than mine, or lighter, I hope you make room for them this season. I suspect that a proper coating of slime on your clothes might prove strangely soothing, especially when the “clean” world looks black.